REVIEW: High Country Angler

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“Quality bamboo at an affordable price!”

-Frank Martin

To read the entire review, please click on the attached .pdf of the High Country Angler magazine.

High Country Angler magazine review

Get the Hat!

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200x200_hat_transparentWant to get a Headwaters hat for free?

Send us your captioned photo (fish stories welcome!) of you and/or your Headwaters bamboo rod, and we’ll send you the hat in return! Send to

We’ll post your story here on our site and our Facebook page,, for the world to see. It didn’t happen unless you can come up with the photos!


Just how big did you say it was?



The New Classic fly Reels and Headwaters EB Fly Lines!

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Classic Machined Fly Reels

Headwaters is now offering the St. Joe classic fly reels machined of 6061 aircraft-grade aluminum and anodized in a rich bronze. These simple click-and-pawl action reels are the perfect complement to a traditional Headwaters bamboo fly rod. 

The St. Joe classic fly reel is the choice for fly anglers looking for a classic, yet economical, fly reel for Headwaters bamboo rods. This reel is engineered to be light, smooth, and tough, using modern machining techniques and materials. The St. Joe click-and-pawl drag system is a nod to fly angling tradition–there is nothing complicated with this reel. These reels will make for great moments on the water. The St. Joe matches perfectly in looks and performance with Headwaters bamboo rods.

The reel may be used as right- or left-hand retrieve.

The St Joe classic fly reels sell for $98 and come in a 2 ½-inch version for 3- and 4-weight line rods and a 3-inch version for 5- and 6-weight line rods.



EB Fly Line

The Headwaters Extended Belly (EB) Weight Forward Fly Lines

One of the most asked questions we get is “what line should I use with a Headwaters bamboo rod?” The flex action and narrower-than-typical guides on the Headwaters bamboo fly rods make for unique mechanical dynamics. This winter we hit the design table to develop a line that can shoot the guides quickly as well as handle the extended flex action of bamboo. We think we’ve come up with a pretty good solution.

The result of this effort is the Headwaters Extended Belly (EB) Weight Forward fly lines. The extended belly allows the weight forward lines to cast similar to double taper lines, but with the added weight up front, shooting the guides quickly and smoothly. In addition, the lines are slightly over weight to allow anglers to feel the load a little better and turn over larger bugs. And they’re good for pickup/set down casts without a lot of false casting.The EB lines sell for $48 each and come in WF3F, WF4F, WF5F, and WF6F to match the Headwaters bamboo rod product lines. The lines are 90 feet in length.

Get on the water with the new St. Joe classic fly reel and EB line from Headwaters!

The History of the Bamboo Fly Rod

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From Wood to Bamboo

Early fly fishing rods, prior to the 1830s, were made of wood and were generally in the range of eleven feet long.  It took a great deal of strength and endurance to cast these mighty beasts, especially if a person were doing it repetitively for any length of time.  Not only were these fly rods unwieldy and difficult to manipulate, but the tips were rather breakable and they had a tendency to warp over time.

Rod builders realized that better materials were needed–materials that would be lighter and stronger, as well as more elastic.  They began experimenting with laminated strips of cane that were imported from India, via England.  At first, two strips of cane, split and glued together, were used just for sections of the fly rod.

The Hexagonal Prototype

Other designs were developed–some used three or four strips of cane for a fly rod section. This eventually gave way to the six-strip design and construction of the entire rod from cane sections, rather than a combination of wood and cane. Nobody knows for sure how or why the evolution came about. Some experts theorize that it had to do with the type of cane being used at the time.

The original cane imported for building fly rods was Calcutta cane, a variety that has a pithy interior and a thin outer layer of fibers.  It was susceptible to various boring insects and the standard practice was to scorch it with fire, perhaps to kill insect infestations.  It was easier to obtain six thin strips of undamaged cane, than four wider strips.  In addition, a four-sided rod section had more useless pith in the middle.

It is known that sometime in the mid-1800s, Charles Murphy of New York was constructing entire fly rods with a six-strip design and by the 1870s the hexagonal design had become standard.

Better Bamboo

In the late 1800s a different species of bamboo became available to fly rod builders.  The Charles Demarest Company introduced Tonkin bamboo to the rod building market, where it quickly became the material of choice.  The scientific name for Tonkin bamboo is Arundinaria Amabilis.  It is native to a fairly small area of southeast China and the canes are smooth, clean, straight and thick-walled with non-prominent nodes.

Machining Increases Availability

The business of making cane fly rods was an exceedingly slow one.  Each rod had to be handcrafted from split pieces of bamboo and meticulously glued together to fit into a balanced whole.  It took a gunsmith to elevate rod building into a trade with mass distribution capabilities. Many of those who built fishing rods in the early days were gunsmiths by trade so they were skilled wood workers.

Hiram Leonard developed a machine to manufacture precisely the tapered cane pieces, reducing overall production time substantially.  He was very protective of his machinery and kept it locked up from even his own employees.  However, others developed their own methods and the early years of the twentieth century became the golden age of bamboo fishing rods.

Loss of the Cane Supply

Fishing rods made from synthetic materials might never have been invented but for a trade embargo imposed on Chinese goods, including Tonkin Cane, in 1950.  Only a few manufacturers of bamboo fly rods survived.  Those who continued did so because they bought cane from the companies that folded.

Still, between a shortage of quality bamboo and the development of synthetics, the cane craft nearly died out altogether. The embargo ended in 1971, but by then bamboo fly rods were built only by a handful of manufacturers and a few home craftsmen.

The Resurgence

Moving into the 1980s, fishermen and craftsmen renewed their interest in bamboo fly rods.  A couple of nostalgic books led people to remember their earlier fishing experiences and the craft was reborn.  The classic bamboo fly rod is back and better than ever.  Century-old designs coupled with modern technology for more precise measurements and fittings are an unbeatable combination.

In an Image and a Word: Tradition

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Bamboo is all about tradition. But it doesn’t have to be like the stereotypes. You can have a bamboo rod built with whatever action you’d like.

Oh, and by the way, did you recognize the angler in this image? That’s Ike there fishing in the 1950s.

Here’s an interesting story about President Eisenhower and his Veep, Richard Nixon:

Eisenhower once tried to teach his vice-presidential running mate Richard Nixon how to cast with a fly rod.

Nixon’s first cast hooked a tree limb. Nixon’s second cast hooked a tree limb. Nixon’s third cast hooked a tree limb. Nixon’s fourth cast hooked Eisenhower’s shirt, at which point the lesson ended.

Nixon wrote, “Fishing just isn’t my bag.”

The Elegance and Beauty of Bamboo Rods

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Casting the Fly  by Winslow Homer


The Art of Bamboo

Fly fishing author Arnold Gingrich said,

On the day that Jascha Heifitz plays a plastic violin in the New York Philharmonic I would consider using a rod made of synthetic materials.

World-class music is made on exceptional instruments. An exquisite bamboo rod of six strips of Tonkin cane, artfully split and tempered, then meticulously finished, is an instrument of incomparable casting quality with an appearance of fine art. A bamboo rod will literally take your breath away—the craftsmanship is exquisite in its fine detail. You will come to delight in the workmanship and grace of bamboo.

If you’ve longed for bamboo, Headwaters is your welcome home. Our classic bamboo rod tapers have a silky smooth action to delight anglers with a preference for fine crafted rods with a relaxed casting rhythm. Anglers worldwide have discovered the exhilaration of fishing Headwaters bamboo.

Six hand-planed strips of genuine Tonkin cane form a rich texture of functional yet timeless craftsmanship. Quality hardware complements the natural elegance of bamboo.


Aren’t Bamboo Rods Fragile?

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Some anglers seem to think that bamboo rods are just too fragile to use. But that perception might just be because bamboo rods have been in use for over 135 years and there are lots of old ones hanging around. John Gierach, in his book, Fishing Bamboo, explains it like this: 

“When graphite rods have been around continuously for over a century, you’ll see just as many busted ones–probably more, since graphite is more brittle than bamboo and, by all rights, should also come with spare tips.”

Bamboo rods really are stout, strong, and resilient. Why is that? It starts with the material and ends with construction. Bamboo as a substance has a higher tensile strength than steel. I recall seeing scaffolding in Asia. Why use steel when bamboo is in abundant supply?! If you haven’t seen it, check out this video posted by AFP News Agency on YouTube. Pretty amazing stuff:

So, because of its uses, we know that bamboo is inherently strong. The bamboo species used exclusively for bamboo fly rods today is known as Tonkin Cane or by its scientific name, Arundinaria  amabilis (the Lovely Reed). This species is known for its “power fibers.” These long, thin strands of material run the length of the bamboo culm and give the fly rod its strength (more on power fibers at a later time). In addition to the strength of the material, there is also the strength of the construction of bamboo rods. Whereas graphite rods are a hollow tube, bamboo rods are built as a solid core, normally taking six strips (but sometimes four, five, or eight) and gluing and bundling them into a solid core. Again, from Gierach, he tells a story of his friend Mike Clark, a builder in Colorado: 

“I’ve seen Mike grab the butt section of an unwrapped blank off the rack, throw it on the floor, and walk the length of it in hiking boots, while explaining that if it was a hollow graphite shaft it would be crushed. The customer gasps, Mike grins, and the point is made.”

So, are bamboo rods fragile? I’d say not. What do you think?



REVIEW: The Courier-Journal

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The Courier Journal Logo

“If there’s a fly fisherman on your gift list, you can put a bamboo rod under the tree and not break the bank”

-Gary Garth

To read the entire review, please click on the attached .pdf of the Courier-Journal newspaper.

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